I attended an interesting tasting last night with John Duval, the long time winemaker for Penfolds and co-executive winemaker for Southcorp, as it then was (overseer of all the winemakers – 65 at the time) if the various wines made under that corporation.
John left Penfolds after the 2002 vintage of Grange and started his own winery, making wines exclusively from grapes purchased from others. He also became involved with the Long Shadows operation in Washington state (doing, what else, their syrah), and another project in Chile. We hauled along a couple of bottles of Grange made by him just for fun (1990, 1991) and had him sign the bottle, and he seemed pleased that people would do that. The wines we tasted were from his new winery, and were my first exposure to his wines in the post Penfolds era.
2011 Plexus white – this Rhone blend (65% marsanne, 25% roussanne, 10% viognier) was something he came up with because he was tired of serving someone else’s wines at dinners he participated in and his wife wanted something to drink in the summer. They make only about 1000 cases a year. The viognier doesn’t give the sort of fat oiliness that I try to avoid in wines heavy in that grape, but does add some interest to the aromatics of the wine, and a hint of apricot (after the sulfur that was the initial element died down a bit). Nice forward wine with a sweet entry, and the nose opened up with some floral elements given some time. I thought maybe honeysuckle. Fermented ion stainless steel and matured in 50% French oak of which only 10% is new, the wine is in a surprisingly European style and was quite tasty. No heavy ok, no excessive sweetness nor overpowering ‘shack and awe’ approach to flavour elements.
2009 Plexus Red - this was a blend of 48% Grenache, 31% shiraz, and 21% mourvedre, so really a true GSM. Nice berry fruit in the nose , a red colour, still dark with purple edges, and on palate a well structured wine but with none of the over-ripe flavours one anticipates (and in my case has grown to dread) in many Australian wines. Some nice spice and a near elegance, followed by a sweet medium long finish. Although John made the archetypical Aussie Shiras in Grange, one senses that he wants to make a lighter style that appeals to him rather than the ‘Parkerites’. Perhaps he was as tired of sites posting articles like “The 20 Australian Wines with a Perfect 100 point Robert Parker score” as I am. I suppose the first indication of his new direction came while still at Penfolds, when he created the RWT blend, using French rather than American oak and accenting the blueberry/blackberry fruit as pect of the grapes.
2009 Entity – this is a straight shiraz, and the alcohol level (14.4%) is an indication of his effort to avoid the common hot and sweet stereotype. Dark with the same purple edges and a very nice blackberry nose, sweeter entry than the blend but not overly so, with thick legs in the glass, good acidity and good length with some chocolate hints at the end. Lovers of fruit bombs should avoid. Lovers of well made elegant wines should seek out! This one seen 1/3 new oak as opposed to the Plexus which gets 10%.
2008 Eligo – this shiraz is a selection from small areas in various vineyards, and it gets a lot of attention in the small batch winemaking as well as 2/3 new oak treatment. The nose seemed to have an added level of complexity, the wine was more extracted and the tannins a bit firmer. A long sweet finish. Excellent wine, but at double the price of the Entity, I have to give the best buy award to that wine.
We retreated to my place to talk about what we had tasted, and of course I felt duty bound to open something, as talking about wine can be thirsty work. I gave them the following wines, blind.
2000 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna – the Kalimna area is the source of much good fruit, so I grabbed this one right out of the cellar and decanted it. It was still fairly dark, and had the ripe nose and sweet presence on palate one expects in a traditional export style from Australia. Some mint in this one we hadn’t noted any in the Duval wines) with a smooth sweet finish. I can take or leave this style, mostly leave.
1995 Rosemount Balmoral Syrah – Wow! The group instantly offered that this was the best wine they’d tasted all night. Great colour with slightly pale edges, an interesting nose with earthiness as well as fruit, complex, sweet entry, supple mellow on palate with a long balanced finish. Really good!